About the Security Council

The theme of this year’s security council is:

Protecting civilians in the South Sudanese conflict


Chapter I: The History of the Council
The United Nations Security Council (Henceforth addressed as ‘The Security Council’) is one of the six organs that were laid down in Chapter III, Article 7 of The charter of The United Nations (Henceforth addressed as ‘The UN Charter’). The UN Charter was signed by the fifty one original members of the United Nations in June-August 1945 and – after ratification of the charter by the permanent five members of the Security Council – came into force on the 24th of October 1945

       The Security Council was tasked at its inception to ensure global peace and security[1]. The Security Council is cited in Article 7 of the UN Charter, which formally established it as one of six original councils of the United Nations, as well as in Articles 23-32 of the Charter, which outline Composition, Powers, and Parliamentary Procedures of the Council.


 The Organizational Chart of the United Nations[2]

The Security Council is found in the Orange Boxes.


Chapter II: Founding Documents

       Essential to the establishment of the Security Council is, as mentioned already, The UN Charter, which formally recognizes it as one of six organs of the United Nations. Additionally, Articles 23-32 of the same charter outline the Composition, Powers, and Parliamentary Procedures of the council.Relevant here are also S/RES/14 which lays down how the presidency of the council is passed on; An Amendment of Article 23 of the Charter expanding the council from eleven to fifteen members, coming into force on August 31st, 1965; And the provisional Rules of procedure of the Security Council (S/96/Res.7)[3], which, in line with Article 30, lay down the parliamentary rules of procedure of the council. The Council derives the legitimacy of its actions from the Charter of the United Nations, which empowers it and tasks it with the maintenance of international peace and security[4].

Chapter III: Structure of the Council

       The council is made up of fifteen members in total, of which five are permanent and ten are elected by the general assembly. The Permanent members (Hereinafter addressed as the ‘P5’) are:

  • The Peoples’ Republic of China,
  • The Russian Federation,
  • The French Republic,
  • The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,
  • The United States of America,

       The legitimacy of their permanent status in the council is derived from Article 23 of the UN Charter. The remaining ten members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. Immediate re-election after retirement from the council is not possible in line with Article 23 (2). The members of the council are listed below (Year of retirement from the council in brackets):

  • Bolivia (2018)
  • Egypt (2017)
  • Ethiopia (2018)
  • Italy (2017)
  • Japan (2017)
  • Kazakhstan (2018)
  • Senegal (2017)
  • Sweden (2018)
  • Ukraine (2017)
  • Uruguay (2017)


       All members of the council have to be represented at meetings with at least one representative, as stated in Article 28 (1)(2). The Organization meets at the seat of the UN in New York, however in accordance with Article 28 (3) may meet at alternative locations if work is better facilitated then.

       Pursuant to Article 31 and 32 of the Charter, any state that is a member of the United Nations and feels its interests specially affected by a development or any state that is or is not a member of the United Nations and is party to a conflict under question may be invited to participate without vote in the debating of the question(s), respectively.

       Council meetings are called at the discretion of the President of the Council, with the exception of periodic meetings mentioned in Article 28 (2) of the Charter[5].

       The Presidency is rotated in English Alphabetical order amongst members of the council in line with S/RES/14. The president presides over meetings of the Security Council and represents it outside of meetings as an organ of the United Nations[6].

       The Security Council can issue a variety of documents. These are listed below:

  • Resolution: Can be submitted by any member or a group of members of the Security council; requires a simple majority plus consensus among the P5 to pass.
  • Presidential Statement: Issued by the president of the council on behalf of it if no resolution can be adopted. A statement is not legally binding in any circumstance; requires consensus among all members of the council to be adopted.
  • Communiqué: Published by the Secretary-General at the closure of a closed-door meeting.

       In accordance with Article 27 (1), each member state has one vote. Of the voting procedures used in the council are Roll Call voting, and division of the question. Roll Call voting involves going through the roll call whilst conducting the vote, thereby allowing states to also state any rights in favour or against a draft resolution. Division of the question, also called ‘Clause-by-Clause’ voting, involves voting separately on each operative clause of the draft resolution. If more than two-thirds of the draft resolution is rejected, the draft resolution fails. The latter situation also applies to amendments to a draft resolution.

Chapter IV – Competencies and Powers

The United Nations Security Council as suggested by its name is the main body entitled to protect international peace and security. As stated in the Charter of the United Nations Article 24 Paragraph 1 all Member States confer to the Council the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security agreeing that the Security Council Member will act in their behalf. The innovation introduced by this article was incredible, considering the ages of characterized by the primacy of the State on every security matter. For the first time in history the need for a safer and stable international environment was mandated to restricted number of actors in order to ensure both impartiality and quick actions in case of crisis. The initial expectations for the role to be played by the council were partially unsatisfied by the complicated balance of power raised from the ashes of WWII. In order to fully understand the powers and the competencies of the committee we will analyze them in detail to create an idea fil rouge that will lead you during the debate.

When the Security Council is supposed to act? A general guideline.

The UNSC is so in charge of oversee on the international arena settling possible dispute among Member States and taking all the appropriate actions in case a threat to international peace should take place. The nature of a threat to international peace is indeed of difficult definition and probably the most problematic topic regarding UNSC competencies. Using a wide interpretation any events could theoretically grown up to a full scale international event. A riot in a isolated African city could start a dramatic chain reaction bringing the whole region in chaos. The development of a new advanced weapon system could endanger the fragile international status quo as much as a full scale armed attack. In the past decades several controversial resolutions has been approved depending on the situation and on the political equilibrium inside the council. As a general guideline the UNSC is authorized to take actions in any situation in which a crisis or an issues is involving two or more Member States. A textbook example of a legitimate UN intervention could be found in the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH). The situation in the Balkan country respected the three conditions recognized as necessary for a UN force to act:  an active threat to peace, incapacity of the party involved to find a solution and most important a international dimension. The most important limit to the Security Council’s powers is provided by Article 2 Paragraph 7 of the Charter stating:

Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll.

As we can observe the principle of an inviolable Domestic Jurisdiction can be overruled only through Chapter VII, but historically speaking during the last decades the consolidate doctrine appear to support the idea to avoid intervention into local conflict, considering peace in its international conception. This trend has been chanced in the recent years thanks to the rising importance of the doctrine know as Responsibility to Protect (R2P). This is a theoretical concept stating that sovereignty is not an absolute right, and that States forfeit aspects of their sovereignty when they fail to protect their populations from mass atrocity crimes and human rights violations.

A State is also considered responsible to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. In addition the International Community is supposed to support and help the State not able to guarantee the protection of its citizens and it has to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.

R2P is a anyway a proposed norm and not recognized as international law and right now is considered more as a general guideline more than a binding document. Since the 2005 World Summit and the affirmation of R2P in article 138[7] and 139[8] the following Resolutions has been approved with a direct mention to R2P by the UNSC de facto widening the range of actions of the council. So far the Resolutions approved on that matter are the following:

  • Darfur: Resolution 1706 in 2006
  • Libya: Resolution 1970, Resolution 1973 in 2011, Resolution 2016 in 2011, and Resolution 2040 in 2012
  • Côte d’Ivoire: Resolution 1975 in 2011
  • Yemen: Resolution 2014 in 2011
  • Mali: Resolution 2085 in 2012 and Resolution 2100 in 2013
  • Sudan and South Sudan: Resolution 1996 in 2011 and Resolution 2121 in 2013

As it can be easily noticed that the use of R2P could extend the competencies of the council to several internal crisis (at the moment even Mexico is considered unable to ensure its citizen safety so passable of mission under the R2P aegis).  In a complete different direction, the decisions regarding the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic where the positions of some of the Permanent Members stood strongly against any intervention even if the characteristic of the Syrian crisis reassembled the one contained in the R2P definitions. It can be stated that the recent custom tend to leave the final decisions in the hand of the Members States represented in the UNSC. These Member States are going to analyze the situations case by case and will take all the appropriate measures they believe are necessary.

What the Security Council could do?

The powers of the UNSC are contained in Chapter VI and Chapter VII of the Charter and comprehend several measures both peaceful and involving the use of the force. More specifically Chapter VI take in consideration the Pacific Settlement of Dispute and it is mostly applied to divergence among Member States (border disputes are the typical example of this kind of issues) and authorize the UNSC to operate as a mediator taking all the appropriate measures to lead the involved parties to a peaceful agreement. As expressed in Article 36 Paragraph 3 the council should also take in consideration that any legal dispute should be referred by the parties to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the competent body on the matter.

Article VII is the true core of UNSC powers and it take in consideration all the action with a respect to threats to peace, breaches of peace and act of aggression. The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations or decide what measures shall be taken to restore the peace and prevent further escalations of the conflicts. This measures could be limited to diplomatic and economic means (Article 41) such as but not limited to economic sanctions, political and diplomatic isolations or embargo. If the above mentioned actions will be ineffective the Council is authorized to take action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations (Article 42). The agreement made to establish this kind of actions is called Mandate and it shall provide all the necessary information on the forces to be employed ( such as but not limited to time frame, dimension, participation, funding, rules of engagement). Possible cooperation with Regional Organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is provided by Article 53 Paragraph 1.

How to write a good Resolution?

UNSC Resolutions are one of the few United Nations documents capable to impose decisions and demands action it the whole United Nations system. A UNSC Resolution is so capable to ask directly for actions to the Member States:

Demands and immediate ceasefire and restrain all the parties involved to take any further hostile actions against civilians and armed forces.

In additions the UNSC is authorized to create ad hoc bodies and commissions to take care of specific issues. In the process of creating this kind of clause is necessary to be extremely specific on the writing, specifying all the necessary information regarding the body/commission/group. A general advice is to answer to the following questions:

  • Who is going to be part of the body/commission/group?
  • How it is going to be funded?
  • How the members are going to be selected?
  • Where it will be located?
  • What is the timeframe of operations?
  • What kind of document is going to be produced?
  • What is the mandate or scope of the body/commission/group?

Another important aspect needed to of great attention is represented by the Perambulatory Clauses. This underestimated part of the Resolution should contain all the legal basis of the Operative part of the document. For this reason they should be written carefully and they must refer to all the previous Resolutions, Treaty, Documents and principles needed to enforce the legality of the actions taken by the UNSC.

[1]BBC News.  UN Security Council – Profile: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-11712448

[2]Organisational Chart of the UN: https://www.ungm.org/Areas/Public/pph/un_system_chart_large.png

[3] Accessed on: http://www.un.org/en/sc/about/rules/

[4]United Nations Security Council. Functions and Powers: http://www.un.org/en/sc/about/functions.shtml

[5]United Nations Security Council. Provisional Rules of Procedure – Chapter I: http://www.un.org/en/sc/about/rules/chapter1.shtml

[6]United Nations Security Council. Provisional Rules of Procedure – Chapter IV: http://www.un.org/en/sc/about/rules/chapter4.shtml

[7]138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

[8]139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those under stress before crises and conflicts break out.